80s horror movies

Chopping Mall

What beats a lightning bolt as a plot device? It’s been used to catalyze countless sci-f plots. And that’s all that’s required to make robotic security personnel go haywire in Chopping Mall, a film that features a whole lot of mall, and not much in the way of chopping.

The brainchild of genre icon Jim Wynorski (who gave us, among other titles, Sorority House Massacre II, Big Bad Mama II, and The Return of Swamp Thing) Chopping Mall has as its source material, a narrative that has a long and storied past in the world of dystopian fiction: a clarion call about the warning of technology gone awry.

With some futurists warning as recently as September, 2017, that about half of all jobs will soon be automated, this is a deep well to draw from to this day, and puts Chopping Mall ahead of its slasher genre-mates, with which it shares some structural similarities.

In the 80s, shopping malls were coming into their own, eating up suburban real estate and becoming de facto community centers and hang-out spots, supplanting the drive-in a decade prior, and the malt shop before that.

In Chopping Mall, management for a run-of-the-mill mall install a new robotic security system. They’re basically assisted living scooters crossed with Dr Who Daleks (minus the bubbles), but with a more aerodynamic shape and slitty lit-up “eyes.” They’ve been programmed to ask questions first (“ID”), and shoot later. Unfortunately for some after-hours mall staffers, as well as some teen partiers, this functionality gets buggered and backwards by electrical short.

So let the killings begin!

Teen furniture store staff conspire to drink beer and engage in sexual hijinks after-hours (after all, they’ve got it made when it comes to beds). The crew includes the legendary Barbara Crampton as Suzie, and Kelli Maroney (Fast Times at Ridgemount High) as Alison. And there is also some fratty canon fodder and the requisite nerd.

They must test their mettle against the killer bots (this film was initially released as the more accurate, Killbots).

A Julie Corman production (she of Candy Stripe Nurses and the terrifically buggy, The Nest, which we podcasted), Chopping Mall has some cheeky, overt references to other films, such as Eating Raoul, a Really Awful Movies site favorite.

And it’s equally as fun.

***1/2 (out of 5)


The Nest

Jaws with bugs? Another in a long line of “substitute a shark with your favorite killer critter here” movies, The Nest (1988) is a creature feature that puts the bête noire of apartment-dwellers at the forefront: the ever-icky cockroach. 

Set in an ostensible “New England village,” a la the Spielberg chomper, this low budget affair comes complete with palm trees, not exactly indigenous to the State of Massachusetts, and other delightful geographical goofs (opposing car windows showcasing a sunny coastline on either side…Either this is the world’s narrowest island, or maybe it was a leisurely drive down an isthmus?)

And the Jaws similarities don’t end there.

Like other nature-run-amok movies, there are entrepreneurial schemers, looking to make a quick buck, and at the expense of public safety. Here, it’s Intec, an evil corporation in cahoots with a corrupt public official, a mayor desperate to increase tax revenue on the island. His economic development plan includes allowing a biotech firm to set up shop, a start-up with an interesting business model: they’re testing a cockroach in a lab, that’ll feast on other cockroaches! What could possibly go wrong with that?

Cockroaches are inherently nasty. And perfect horror film fodder. But for creatures that can apparently go a month without feeding, you’d never know it here. In The Nest, they make short work of islanders and pets, in it has to be said, rather revolting fashion.

Exterminate! Exterminate!

And it’s up to the macho town sheriff, and his ex-paramour and high-school sweetheart (who happens to be the mayor’s daughter) to save the day.

Genre fans will get a kick out of love interest Lisa Langlois, who starred in some 80s cheeseball classics like Happy Birthday to Me and Deadly Eyes.

There’s even an evil scientist who gets aroused by the order, Blattodea (a group that includes termites, another indestructible insect).

As audacious as Slugs, this buggy horror delivers.

*** (out of 5)

[Check out our discussion of The Nest on the Really Awful Movies Podcast]